21 December 2009

Incorporating ontogenetic dispersal, ecological processes and conservation zoning into reserve design

Our article in Biological Conservation has become available online today. As promised I shall attempt to write a readable summary.

The aim of our paper is to extend existing methods for placing marine reserves to protect habitats by making the methods more realistic and thus hopefully more likely to protect species of importance and be acceptable to fishermen.

Marine reserves are basically areas of the ocean that are closed to extractive activities like fishing and the removal of stone or pharmaceutical products. Selecting locations for reserves is a tricky business as it's difficult to predict how species and habitats will respond to reserves and even more difficult to convince local stakeholders that going another few miles every day to a potentially less-stocked fishing area is a good thing. For example, closing areas to fishing groupers can benefit parrotfish - an ecologically-important family of fish because parrotfish are stupid enough to go and sit in the grouper fish traps (even though they're not targeted by the fishermen). However, closing areas to fishing groupers allows groupers to grow to a larger size before they die and since groupers eat parrotfish that means that they're able to eat the larger parrotfish (the ones more likely to reproduce).

Rather than choosing sites arbitrarily, computer algorithms (lists of instructions followed by the computer) exist to help select locations. These are required because once you start selecting locations from hundreds or thousands of sites it becomes impossible to do it by hand. Basically you divide the seascape up into lots and lots of potential reserve sites - ours were square and made by overlaying a 1km by 1km grid over an aerial map of Belize, and specify roughly what proportion of sites you want to be in your final network of marine reserves (say 20% of the total area of the seascape). The computer selects a random group of sites as your first reserve network and then repeatedly tries making changes to the reserve network by adding or removing a site and seeing if the resulting reserves are 'better'. Better is usually defined as being more likely to protect the species or habitats of interest with minimal cost to fishermen and reserve managers.

Ian and I wrote a new computer algorithm to make this process more realistic by

1) taking into account that some species migrate between habitats (that's the ontogenetic dispersal part),
2) evaluating how important each fish species is ecologically and economically and then using predicted numbers of each species in each habitat to determine how much of each habitat you aim to have in reserves (that's the ecological processes part) and
3) taking into account that areas outside reserves are also important - previous algorithms assessed if a reserve network was 'better' only by looking at what was in the reserve network. We also evaluate what is outside the reserves at the same time (that's the conservation zoning part).

So now you know!!

18 December 2009

Bye bye builder

We had quite a stressful day. The builder we've had in to knock down some walls and put in some new doors and windows seems to think that our house is his and that he has the right to make all the decisions. He decided that he and his electrician would be doing our electrics in the new kitchen (not something we asked for) and despite our protestations the electrician arrived today. The builder talked him through the job as he wants it done without consulting us. Needless to say when the quote arrives we shall not be saying yes.

The good news is that the builder is packing up as I write. We had to tell him that we were leaving for Christmas this weekend (which we're not) to get him to speed up and finish the doors and windows. The bad news is that he's convinced that he's coming back in January to finish various jobs. We shall allow him to put in a new window upstairs, but if we have our way he will not be setting foot in the kitchen ever again.

On the other hand, William had a blissfully relaxing day...

8 December 2009

Batty bat!

Last night we went for a meal at a friends. The friend has a beautiful ferret - incredibly lively and it didn't stay still for a minute (so I didn't take a photo). She has also recently inherited some Pipistrelle bats that were born too late to survive the winter uncared for. They live in a huge material labrador kennel suspended from the utility room roof which contains all sorts of things for them to dangle from.

After being passed around for a cuddle, this bat was weighed last night (in a sock!!!) and having put on quite a bit of weight became known as 'fat bat'!

27 November 2009

and another!

It's been a great couple of weeks for work. First our reserve design paper got accepted to the journal Biological Conservation and now a paper I coauthored with a phd student has been accepted to the Marine Ecology Progress Series. As soon as they are actually in print I shall endeavour to blog a (hopefully understandable) summary of each.

26 November 2009

Allergy Testing

Pretty much everyone I know is allergic to something. Both my mother and brother-in-law are allergic to nuts, my father and brother get migraines if they eat certain foods, my stepmother has problems eating scampi, my partner thinks he's allergic to gluten or wheat... I myself have suffered from hayfever since my mid-teens and am allergic to touching at least one species of plant.

A few weeks ago I had a rather uncomfortable itching reaction to something (possibly edible, possibly chemical) whilst staying at a friends and it made me wonder if it might be an idea to undergo allergy testing. We own several books on nutritional health and most come with some sort of suggestion for a diet plan for eliminating and reintroducing foods, but given the variety of things that can cause an allergic reaction I'm unsure that I would ever put my finger on it even if I tried that technique. The NHS make it quite clear on their website that most methods of allergy testing aren't 100% effective, but then there are also dozens of testimonials from people whose lives have been turned around after finding they were allergic to something they'd been eating regularly for years. An example of someone who found out they were allergic to cos lettuce (not any other kind) and sunflower seeds demonstrates just how difficult it would be to find that out using an elimination and reintroduction diet.

So I'm considering undergoing allergy testing. Probably a waste of money, but then it only takes an hour and I wouldn't need to do it more than once unless I developed other allergies later in life (which does happen). I'm not going to be conned by one of those sites on the internet asking you to send off a hair, so I've found a local clinic run by an NHS nurse, but thought I would consult my fellow bloggers before booking an appointment. As I said pretty much everyone I know thinks they know what they are allergic to, but has anyone actually undergone testing and if so would they recommend a particular method?

16 November 2009


Last weekend Ian and I travelled up North to see Gary, Dewi and Ian's grandad. The trip to Preston consists of 5 hours on the M5 and M6 and then a couple of minutes in Exeter and Preston. On the way up I was surprised to see the phrase "Don't hog the middle lane" in lights on signs above the road. Although I'm quite familiar with this meaning of the word hog (as opposed to pig) I was surprised to see it on the sign and can imagine that it would quite confuse any foreign drivers in the UK. Upon arriving home I've checked the Oxford English Dictionary and it is defined there as "take greedily; hoard selfishly". I particularly like the additional words hoggery and hoggishness.

Interestingly on the journey south the sign read "Keep left unless overtaking" instead.

7 November 2009

Seaton Marshes

Today we visited a nature reserve near Seaton for the first time. Seaton marshes is an area of marshland, much of which floods at high tide, located next to the river Axe. There's a lovely little hide looking out on to the river

The nature reserve is visited by many different species of birds and kingfishers are regular visitors

Unfortunately my camera isn't good enough to get much of a shot at that distance, but one of the other birdwatchers was kind enough to let us view it through his telescope.

We also saw some little egrets

many gulls, ducks and some waders that I couldn't identify at a distance. Two female pheasants were feeding under the bird feeders next to the hide

and a male came along the tramway for a stroll

31 October 2009


This evening Ian and I each carved a pumpkin for halloween. Ian also decided to carve a watermelon and it definitely adds a spooky green colour to the mantlepiece.

This year I departed from carving the usual pumpkin face and went for something a bit more tricky. I copied this from a picture on the internet. It began by looking like a deer, progressed to a rabbit:

and hopefully now looks like a cat:

21 October 2009

Happy 60th Birthday Dad!

My father John, aka scriptor senex, for those of you who only know of him in blogland, is 60 years old today. We're having a family get together this weekend, but for now I shall post a few photos.

My Dad has a love of natural history

and is rarely to be seen without his camera and an animal or two

Happy Birthday from Ian, William and I!

17 October 2009

Happy Birthday William!

Today is the two year anniversary of our having rescued William the tabby cat from his cage in the cats protection league shelter. Not that the cage was particularly small and the people at the shelter are very loving, but William, having been "in care" twice before wasn't having a very enjoyable time.

When we first met William he was the least friendly of the over 13's that we were restricted to because of our proximity to a major road. He sat at the back of his cage (as far away from us as possible without going down a ramp to another level) and miaowed a silent miaow. We had several cuddles of the other more friendly cats, but it was William that stood out because he seemed so sad.

We nearly ended up with a different cat when the cats protection people fetched us a tabby called Tigger instead whilst we were signing some forms. Luckily the mistake was noticed and Tigger returned to his cage (most put out having been freshly flea-sprayed) and William was brought out.

After bringing him home we were slightly concerned that he was going to remain sad and unfriendly as he promptly hid behind the fridge and refused to come out for 48 hours. Luckily we discovered William's second passion (after IAMs cat biscuit) - heat. Only a couple of minutes after putting the dining room fire on he came out, sat in the middle of the floor and got fussed for 3 hours.

Since then he has settled in very well (see here) and apart from being a little on the nervous side he is a most welcoming and loving cat. Not knowing his actual date of birth we are celebrating his 15th birthday today. Happy Birthday Puss!

William, in a rather uncomfortable looking position.

11 October 2009

A first

Yesterday we went for a walk in Haldon Forest. One of the paths offers wonderful views of the Exe Valley

The forest contains a number of sculptures, most of which are of a musical nature. This crocodile was off the path and I would have missed it if Ian hadn't spotted it

The forest is very popular with cyclists and horseriders. Unfortunately this baby grass snake that Ian found in the middle of the path appeared to have been run over by a cyclist

It was upside down and I was convinced that it was just one of those little rubber toy snakes until Ian moved it off the path. This is the first snake I've ever seen in the wild and it's a shame that it was dead. Hopefully we shall find a live one someday.

11 September 2009


As Ian mentioned on his blog last Sunday we have now completed our first contract under our new company abcGIS. The deadline for the entire project was today, but as usual a certain person was out of the country for the last few weeks and so the written outputs of the project are going to be delayed until at least Monday. Thankfully we have finished our role - making a website to display the maps that were the outcomes of the study in addition to providing a quick summary of the aims and methods.

It's been a hectic few weeks and we've been programming in what are entirely new languages for me. Some big things worked surprisingly quickly and some little things took hours and hours.

As always there were a few things I wanted to do, but gave up on in the end. For example the banner of images on the left hand side will only fit the text when viewed on certain sized monitors. Otherwise either the text goes beyond the images or vice versa. I could of course repeat the images to fit the space (as with the banners at the top and bottom), but then that would result in only part of a photo at the bottom and in my opinion that would look even worse. Suggestions anyone on how to deal with this in the future?

Unfortunately the end of this project means that I have to spend some time revising one of my papers that I've submitted for publication. This will be the 4th time I've revised it since I first submitted it. Fingers crossed that it is 4th time lucky...

22 August 2009


Having driven all the way to the Forest of Dean we decided to return via the wildfowl and wetlands center at Slimbridge. I've been to WWT Martin Mere more times than I can count, but had never visited any of their other sites before.

The day was very hot and I confess I didn't really pay enough attention to the birds - preferring to dash from one patch of shade to the next. Something that did stand out were these scultures of a family of kingfishers outside (and inside) the kingfisher hide...

Soudley Ponds

Upon moving to Devon in 2005 (having lived in the North of England my entire life until then) I made a list of places I wanted to explore. Most of them we visited in the first couple of years - Dartmoor, Exmoor, Dorset and we've made it across the south of England to Hampshire and even Sussex a couple of times. What we hadn't managed until this week was to visit the Forest of Dean. The Forest of Dean is in Gloucestershire, about 2 hours drive from Exeter, and is somewhere I remember very well from holidays during my childhood.

Despite there being no signpost to the carpark we managed to park at the south end of Soudley Ponds - a series of 4? large interconnected ponds.

We were lucky enough to see several fish

both hawker and darter dragonflies (though as usual only the darters settled for a photograph)

and a little lizard.

Now all I have to do is to make it over to Cornwall sometime. Cornwall still seems so far away, even when you live in Devon!

18 August 2009

The Lucombe Oak

Yesterday we visited Bicton Park, just a few miles from Exeter. Bicton is famous for its beautiful gardens and in particular for its arboretum. At Bicton there are several semi-evergreen Lucombe oaks (Quercus x hispanica 'Lucombeana'). These were discovered by William Lucombe, who ran a nursery in Exeter, when he found that one of his evergreen cork oaks (Quercus suber) had crossed with a deciduous Turkey oak (Q. cerris) in 1762. The Lucombe oak is unusual in that it keeps its leaves over winter.

12 August 2009

- ? -

2 August 2009

All in a row

These asian otters at the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park were very comical waiting to be fed

This little guy was particularly keen to see where the keeper was

26 July 2009

Baby melons

As you may have read last year Ian has a recently-discovered passion for growing melons.

He's currently growing this 'sweetheart' melon that he grew so successfully last year:

and for the first time a watermelon. It's about the size of a grape in this photograph:

A Mulberry Tree

Yesterday we took a day trip to the New Forest to visit the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park (owned by the same family as the Chestnut Centre). Ian was particularly keen to take his new camcorder and video the otters.

There were three highlights for me - watching an asian short clawed otter climbing a fence, the recent addition of a tropical butterfly house and a beautiful black mulberry (Morus nigra) tree outside the first otter enclosure. I've walked past the tree a number of times in the Spring without paying it any attention, but being summer it was fruiting profusely.

The ground was stained with fallen fruits and there were still thousands on the tree itself. I didn't feel cheeky enough to pick some and taste them (and I couldn't remember if you could eat them raw), but we did collect lots of the fallen fruit with the hope of planting one of our own.

I have to say that it was one of the most beautiful and unusual trees I've ever seen. I have to have one!

Many people know only of the mulberry from the fact that the leaves provide the only source of food for the silkworm and from the nursery rhyme "here we go round the mulberry bush". No species of mulberry actually forms a bush and it may be that it was adapted from an earlier version "here we go round the bramble bush".

18 July 2009


Finally I've finished making the path next to the large pond. I started it back in April, but to finish it I required some triangular brick pieces to go round the corner (thanks so much to Ian and his new angle grinder for cutting them) and some wet weather to make the clay easier to dig.

The straight section that I completed a couple of months ago is rather overgrown now, but I like it that way.

6 July 2009

Lemon syrup cake

Mum gave me a wonderful book "a year of desserts" a couple of years ago and I've started making some of them. The coconut ice cream was a bit too sweet for me, but Ian loved it (and of course I'll post the recipe if anyone's interested). We both really love this lemon cake - it's very moist and lemony and best served warm.

The worst part is chopping the candied peel - not easy as it's so sticky. Hopefully there's a shop out there that sells it already chopped, but we haven't found it yet.

20 June 2009

A fixer-upper opportunity

We visited another plot of land for sale this week. It was located next to a lovely coniferous woodland, but had a number of big disadvantages, the main one being access. The land was accessed by a half mile long lane, only suitable for four-wheeled drive vehicles, with 5 gates between the main road and the land. The land contains a "cottage" and another small building. The estate agent's details state that the cottage hasn't been lived in since the second world war and that there is no planning permission to live on site.

I'd be highly surprised if anyone was interested in restoring this.

The cottage:

Ian in the cottage (note the lack of roof)

The fireplace:

Inside the other building:

15 June 2009

Only the best

A couple of weeks ago I had my first ever Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I've always considered it a bit expensive to try and now having done so will probably not be buying any again.

Last night Ian finished it off and left the lid on the bed. William proceeded to lick it and then (not being able to resist the photo opportunity) Ian gave him the pot to lick. It seems that William was more fond of it than I was.

Introducing Panambi

We were a little concerned that Panambi might be shy, having only been at the Chestnut Centre for 3 weeks. She was actually very friendly and came right up to see us. Manoki and Panambi are getting on really well and we were lucky enough to watch them play together (mostly in the water) for over 30 minutes before dinner time.

This is Panambi:

You can tell any two giant otters apart from the markings on their neck. Manoki has more white on his:

It was extremely difficult to get a photograph of the two together as they were constantly on the move